a1 Harvard University
Does air have value? In the first volume of Capital, Marx suggested it did not: “A thing can be a use-value, without having value,” he explained. “This is the case whenever its utility to man is not due to labour. Such are air, virgin soil, natural meadows, &c.” Because it has no value, understood by Marx in this context to mean labor value, air cannot be a commodity: “Commodities come into the world in the shape of use-values, articles, or goods, such as iron, linen, corn, &c. This is their plain, homely, bodily form. They are, however, commodities, only because they are something two fold, both object of utility, and, at the same time, depositories of value.” Marx's materialist focus on human labor and industrial production made it hard for him to imagine air as a commodity—at least when he published the first volume of Capital in 1867.
ALISON F. FRANK is a professor of history and associate director of the Center for History and Economics at Harvard University (History Department, 27 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). She is the author of Oil Empire: Visions of Prosperity in Austrian Galicia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), as well as articles on the Mediterranean slave trade, diplomacy and corporate interest, oil and environmental sustainability, and Alpine pilgrimage. She is currently writing a book on Austria's efforts to become a global commercial maritime power in the long nineteenth century.
The author wishes to thank David Blackbourn, David Ciarlo, Walter Johnson, Pieter Judson, Tony Judt, Thomas Kühne, Uta Poiger, Larry Wolff, Tara Zahra, Jonathan Zatlin, Daniel Ziblatt, and participants in the “Internationalizing Central European History” conference (Cambridge, MA, May 2007) and the Remarque Institute European History Seminar (New York, NY, November 2007) for comments on earlier drafts of this article. Invaluable research assistance was provided by Anna Whittington. Research was supported by grants from the American Council of Learned Societies; the Milton Fund; the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies; and the Davis Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia.